This guest blog has been contributed by Dianna Vail, who is researching mental disabilities and conditions in the workplace.
In the 1980’s Manic Depression was officially re-named Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder is a mental health illness which affects the individual’s mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out daily tasks, by swinging them from one extreme to another. These extreme mood states are more intense than for someone without Bipolar and can be distressing and overwhelming as well as having a massive impact on their lives. On one extreme the individual will feel low, lethargic and depressed, then on the opposite end they will feel very high and over-active. Sometimes individuals can also experience ‘mixed states’ which are a mixture of the other two states. These mood swings can last anything from hours, days, weeks or even months.
According to the NHS one in every one hundred adults at some point in their life will be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
People with Bipolar Disorder come under the protection of the Equality Act 2010 so therefore it is advisable for all employers to have a clear understanding of not only the Act but also of the employee in question. If the employee has disclosed that they have or think they have Bipolar, ask them to detail how it affects them and what support and treatment they are receiving. Do some research yourself and let them know you wish to understand and support them.
If the employee does not disclose yet you feel they have many traits of the condition do not approach them. All conversations regardless of them disclosing or not disclosing their illness must be done with tact as there may be stigma or concerns regarding stigma associated with the illness.
An individual with Bipolar may need to take more sick days than other employees without. An understanding environment should be established to prevent any unnecessary anxiety when phoning in sick. Allocate a supportive person for the employee to report sick days to. If possible ensure this person understands the illness. Try to establish a good rapport with the employee so that together you can look for triggers and then work towards reducing these triggers.
Treatment for Bipolar is tailored towards the individual and can be a combination of medication, counselling and lifestyle changes.
Medication can be in the form of mood stabilisers such as lithium carbonate, anticonvulsant medicines (such as valproate, carbamazepine or lamotrigine) or antipsychotic medicines (such as aripiprazole, olanzapine, quetiapine or risperidone) and antidepressants. The side effects are varied and extensive, and include insomnia, nausea, anxiety, diarrhoea and constipation, shakiness, hair loss, weight gain or loss, muscle, joint and body pain, dizziness and headaches, blurred/double vision, tinnitus, fever, acne and skin rashes, to name a few.
Counselling could be either Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Psychoeducation or Family Therapy. All methods are designed to enable the individual to feel empowered and identify ways to change the negative patterns to positive ones.
Recommended lifestyle changes could be to do more exercise, have a healthy diet that minimizes caffeine and does not include alcohol or drugs and getting enough sleep. Reduction in anxiety levels can be helped by methods such as yoga or meditation. Regular routines are also normally recommended as well as reducing stress at home and at work.
If you have not already told your employer then that is something worth considering; if not your employer than at least tell a manager, supervisor or colleague. Having someone at work to confide in can help reduce anxiety levels and assist you in getting more support at work. The majority of companies state they have a zero tolerance to discrimination and with the protection of the Equality Act 2010 there is much support available to you. When telling someone at work be as honest as possible. Explain what side effects you might be experiencing and any triggers that you may be exposed to. By doing so the company can look at ways to work with you to limit the amount of time off you need and establish an environment that is beneficial to you.
Additionally there are also support groups on social media sites such as Facebook.